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Why Do Americans Move So Often?

Aired August 5, 2001 - 17:47   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to spend a moment now examining an experience shared by 40 million Americans this summer and every recent summer: moving. And believe me, wrapping everything you own in bubble wrap and handing it off to four burly guys to truck across the country is no picnic.

So, why do Americans move on average every five years? We are going to put that question now and others to Dr. Fred Goodwin, host of National Public Radio's "The Infinite Mind," which devotes an hour to the stresses and motivations of moving this week. Dr. Goodwin approaches this from a psychiatric viewpoint. He is a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, former director too of the National Institute for Mental Health. Dr. Goodwin, thanks for joining us today.

DR. FRED GOODWIN, HOST, "THE INFINITE MIND": Nice to be here.

FRAZIER: I have heard the program in an advance copy, and I must say it's fascinating. Thank you for providing that. Forty million Americans?

GOODWIN: Forty million. We have always been a company -- a sort of country of movers. Moving is as American as apple pie. It's increased in the last generation or two, perhaps because of the shift in the economy from the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley and all those shifts, and also because of the doubling of the divorce rate in last 30 years. Divorces, of course, trigger a lot of moves -- sometimes moves can actually trigger divorces.

FRAZIER: Is it corporate transfers that's moving people? And those come with a lot of supports, a lot of help, a lot of pay.

GOODWIN: Yeah, the economic turnover, the sort of what they call destructive tension of the economy, but I think we should remember that Americans have always been a nation of movers.

And we are an immigrant culture. Most of our forbearers were immigrants. They left their own country, often in a very uncertain new language, dangerous country. You have to ask yourself, what was it that resulted in certain people leaving, and others, often in the same economic circumstances or the same religious persecution, stayed behind?

And one of things I'm interested in is the possibility that that has something to do with our genes, because risk-taking and stimulus- seeking, which are adventurous, are two of the things that go into that risky business of moving, are in fact influenced by genetics. So, in a certain sense, we may have inherited some of these tendencies to be explorers and to be risk-takers, which explains I think some of the unique strengths of this country, as well as some of our problems.

FRAZIER: Inherited those genes from our forbearers who made the big move, the move across oceans, for example.

GOODWIN: That's right. Our moves are puny by comparison today.

FRAZIER: Well, still though, they are very stressful, as you pointed out and shared with some of your guests.

GOODWIN: They are. And in fact, the key thing is for people to acknowledge what losses are going to be faced. You are going to lose friends, you are going to often disconnect from family, you are going to lose your identity. We don't realize how much our identity is tied in with the places we're at.

And you also lose competence. I mean, this is particularly true of the older people, but you know, we don't realize how much our sense of competence depends on knowing how to get to the drug store, knowing how to get to our work, knowing exactly where to go in the house. And all these little details add up to something suddenly new, and we really disoriented. And the key is to acknowledge that and to kind of let yourself grieve about it.

Don't pretend that every move is going to be wonderful. And in fact, don't get into the situation of moving just to leave problems behind.

FRAZIER: In fact, our last question is going to have to be about that. One of your guests on the program counsels that staying put may in fact be a better option?

GOODWIN: Staying put is a better option for many people, and certainly one should never move just in order to try to sort of get away from problems.

But if you do move, there is lots of ways to diminish the shock. You can look at -- you can sort of network in advance, go to the new community, find a sponsor, hang out where the neighbors hang out.

Don't go to work in the first week or two. Be there with your family. It's important for the kids to have special bags of their stuff they take, it's important for kids to have their room unpacked first, so they feel settled immediately.

Teenagers have a particularly difficult time with moving, because peer groups are so important for them. Parents ought to help them network in advance and don't be afraid to share the feelings that everyone is having within the family.

FRAZIER: All good advice, and as we heard on the program, that one family you profiled, going from Virginia to Connecticut, makes it all come alive for us. Dr. Goodwin, thanks for sharing a preview of the program. We will look forward to hearing it on National Public Radio in the course of this week.

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